UK justice in the dock over attacker freed to kill
▶ Allowing terrorist Usman Khan into the community showed gaps in proper vigilance
demonstrate that he can safely be released; such a decision is then better left to the Parole Board for consideration proximate in time to the date when release becomes possible.”
But yesterday, the Parole Board was quick to distance itself from the decision to release Khan.
“We have every sympathy with those affected by the dreadful events that happened in London Bridge yesterday,” it said.
“Given the seriousness of this attack, it is understandable that there is speculation about the attacker’s release from prison.
“The Parole Board can confirm it had no involvement with the release of the individual identified as the attacker, who appears to have been released automatically on licence [as required by law], without ever being referred to the board.”
Mr Khan said the law needed to be changed to prevent dangerous offenders from being automatically released. “When a person is released on licence, does the Ministry of Justice and the probation service have the resources to supervise people who are clearly dangerous?” he asked.
One of the issues in the coming election has been the time prisoners serve in jail.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been calling for offenders to serve longer sentences.
On Friday, he reiterated his concerns and said it was a “mistake” for Khan to have been released.
“It is very important that we get out of that habit and that we enforce the appropriate sentences for dangerous criminals, especially for terrorists, that I think the public will want to see,” he said.
He called a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra to address the attack.
Terrorism lawyer Paul Genney told The National: “It is clear that dangerous offenders should be made to serve their full sentences. If this man had been serving the full 16 years handed to him then this atrocity would not have happened.”
Khan, from Staffordshire, has a history of terrorism offences. He was arrested in 2012 with a group that had a list of possible targets to attack, including the homes of Mr Johnson, who was London mayor at the time, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral and two rabbis.
Security has been increased in London before the Nato summit this week.
Usman Khan was known to police when he stabbed and killed two people on London Bridge in broad daylight on Friday. Khan had been convicted in 2012 as part of a terrorist cell that plotted to blow up the London Stock Exchange, among other targets. Three members of his nine-man cell, inspired by Al Qaeda, were initially supposed to be held in prison indefinitely. In 2013, however, the Court of Appeal gave the masterminds – including Khan – fixed-term sentences instead. The presiding appeal judge said at the time that the offence of terrorism was “particularly wide, covering acts just short of an attempt to conduct that only just crosses the line into criminality”.
On Friday, that deeply troubling decision proved to be fatal. Khan, who was released in December last year after serving exactly half of his 16-year sentence – as the applicable law states – launched a frenzied attack with two knives, killing a man and a woman and injuring at least three others before he was shot dead by police. As London once again contemplates the tragic aftermath of a fatal terrorist attack, questions are rightly being asked about whether there are sufficient measures in place to protect the public. Under the original sentence, Khan would most likely still be behind bars. Nor was he hindered by new counter-terrorism laws this year, giving tougher sentencing powers for non-violent terrorist acts.
At the time of the appeal hearing, Khalid Masood had yet to kill five people on London’s Westminster Bridge in 2017; a terrorist gang had not yet prowled nearby Borough Market, killing eight people and injuring 48; nor had 23 concertgoers – many of them children – died in a Manchester suicide bombing. These incidents had yet to happen when Khan’s sentence was downgraded, but they had taken place before he was released. It suggests a woefully inadequate system that is still missing essential joined-up thinking that could save lives.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it is a “mistake” to allow early release for prisoners. The Guardian newspaper last year found more than 80 convicted terrorists were due for automatic release because they had come to the end of their sentences. The threat comes not just from Islamic extremists like Khan but right-wing terrorists; both have been radicalised behind bars. Greater provision must be made to monitor such recruitment and assess convicts before release to ensure they will not reoffend. Overstretched probation workers must receive proper support and training in recognising those who could be a danger as it could mean the difference between life and death for potential victims.
London has proven resilient in bouncing back from such attacks and will undoubtedly do so again. But it should not take yet more fatalities to serve as a reminder of the need for greater vigilance in protecting the public. There are more than 220 people being held on terrorism-related offences in Britain. It only takes one lone wolf to cause devastation. A counter-narrative to his message of hate must be projected loudly before the ideology that he was indoctrinated with strikes again.
Police help an injured man after Friday’s terrorist attack near London Bridge that left two people dead
An undated photo of the terrorist Usman Khan